16 Apr 2024

Auckland lodge fire: City Garden Lodge on Work and Income housing accommodation list

10:03 pm on 16 April 2024
Parnell's City Garden Lodge is seen on 8 April, 2024, the morning after it caught fire.

City Garden Lodge in Parnell in the wake of the fire on 7 April. Photo: RNZ / Jordan Dunn

A Parnell lodge which caught on fire this month was on a Work and Income list of accommodation providers although it had not used the lodge for emergency accommodation since 2022.

Work and Income says the list was only meant to be used internally and not given to clients, although RNZ has spoken to one client who was handed it at the Queen Street branch.

City Garden Lodge on Saint Georges Bay Road in Parnell went up in a blaze on 7 April and forced 10 people to evacuate.

Government agencies ceased any involvement in directly housing people at the accommodation, including the Department of Corrections, Ministry for Housing and Urban Development, and the Ministry for Social Development (MSD).

However, RNZ spoke with one person who reached out to Work and Income in Central Auckland seeking emergency housing.

They were given a document, which has since been seen by RNZ, with 47 recommendations for potential housing accommodation, including City Garden Lodge, which was fourth on the list.

The lodge was described as "long term, furnished, private bathroom, wifi," with the requirements that guests had no convictions and were not on electronic bail.

Also on the list was Lantana Lodge which like City Garden Lodge is on Saint Georges Bay Road and owned by the Chatly family.

Each accommodation option came with a contact phone number for the client to call.

"We are aware that some of our service centres have lists designed to be a resource for staff to help people to identify local accommodation options across the city to be used internally," said Mark Goldsmith, MSD regional commissioner for Auckland Central.

"The information has been sourced from public websites and local knowledge, it is not generally something we give to clients," he said.

Goldsmith said Work and Income did not "place people in private accommodation such as boarding houses or hostels," and that the clients, "make their own decision," about where they wanted to stay.

He also said, if needed, Work and Income could pay a beneficiary's rent directly to a landlord in a process called, 'redirection of benefit'.

"We can arrange a redirection of benefit for accommodation costs, with the person's consent," he said.

Neighbour Andre May said the street was seeing constant police presence, and disorderly and violent behaviour stemming from the lodge before the fire.

He said it was, "absolutely frustrating that there appears to be no acknowledgement from government in their role in facilitating this situation," while Work and Income gave at least one client contact details for the lodge and could redirect rent payments to it if needed.

May reached out to Epsom MP David Seymour eight weeks before the fire at City Garden lodge after being violently confronted by a resident.

"Since the repurposing, there have been ongoing, repeat and high frequency criminal incidents on this street and surrounding streets," May said in the 12 March email.

"This street has gone from a safe, family based street, where residents can feel safe (as they should in NZ) to a dangerous and unsettling area."

Another said living near the lodge was an experience that traumatised them and left them terrified at times.

"The noise has just been so incredibly difficult to live next to, it's just all day, through the night getting woken up at night by them either fighting, coming home, talking, coming through the property," the local said, who asked not be named out of safety concerns.

They said the fire did not come as a surprise, considering the constant police presence, and talks of drug dealings and sexual assault they overheard.

"At times I would resort to asking them if they would please mind keeping the noise down, and I was called every expletive there is ... under the sun," they said.

"After these altercations I will have such bad anxiety, I will feel scared, I've slept with a knife next to my bed, I've been really traumatised by living next door to them."

They said they had sought help from a neighbourhood watch, police, and local politicians but no significant change had come from any of it.

After the fire, David Seymour replied to Andre May's email and said the government could not place people in hostels like the lodge.

"However, that doesn't mean the problems stopped, because any person can still stay there. It is not illegal to run a boarding house, and it is not illegal for someone receiving a benefit or grant to stay at one," Seymour said.

Seymour said he had been, "assiduous demanding the relevant authorities ensure that the hostels are complying with any and all relevant laws".

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